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No. 8 CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
William F. Reed
November 10, 1997
No team in the NBA has changed more than Cleveland, which has an entirely new starting lineup and a new up-tempo offense. Last season the Cavs were so boring—they were the second-lowest-scoring NBA team since the shot clock, was adopted for the 1954-55 season—that heading into '97-98, management faced the prospect of a third straight season of declining attendance. (Average crowds at Gund Arena had dropped from 20,338 in '94-95 to 16,895 last year.) It didn't help that three of last season's starters (forward Chris Mills, guard Bobby Phills and center Mark West) opted for free agency and that two of the summer's major free-agent targets, Rick Fox and Brian Grant, turned down lucrative offers from the Cavs to play elsewhere for less money.
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November 10, 1997

No. 8 Cleveland Cavaliers

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BY THE NUMBERS

1996-97 TEAM STATISTICS
Record: 42-40 (fifth in Central)

SEASON AVERAGES

Points per game (rank)

FG pct. (rank)

Rebounds per game (rank)

Turnovers per game (rank)

Cavaliers

87.5 (29)

.453 (17)

37.4 (29)

14.5 (4)

Opponents

85.6 (1)

.441 (9)

37.0 (1)

16.2 (8)

No team in the NBA has changed more than Cleveland, which has an entirely new starting lineup and a new up-tempo offense. Last season the Cavs were so boring—they were the second-lowest-scoring NBA team since the shot clock, was adopted for the 1954-55 season—that heading into '97-98, management faced the prospect of a third straight season of declining attendance. (Average crowds at Gund Arena had dropped from 20,338 in '94-95 to 16,895 last year.) It didn't help that three of last season's starters (forward Chris Mills, guard Bobby Phills and center Mark West) opted for free agency and that two of the summer's major free-agent targets, Rick Fox and Brian Grant, turned down lucrative offers from the Cavs to play elsewhere for less money.

Yet the tide may have turned on Sept. 25, the day the Cavs acquired All-Star power forward Shawn Kemp from the SuperSonics as part of a three-way trade that also included the Bucks. The price was high: Cleveland sent to Milwaukee All-Star point guard Terrell Brandon and stalwart power forward Tyrone Hill. Nevertheless, the deluge of phone calls to the Cavaliers' sales-and-marketing department included one from a fan who ordered six club seats at a total cost of $18,450. Although the 6'10", 256-pound Kemp insists, "I am not a savior," fans clearly expect that his presence will guarantee that the team will be entertaining for a change.

Coach Mike Fratello, one of the game's leading control freaks, promised Kemp that the Cavs would opt for a faster pace in order to take advantage of his abilities. "Shawn Kemp is a terrific open-court player," says Fratello. Yet Fratello hasn't employed that style since his days with the Hawks in the '80s, when Atlanta featured the high-flying Dominique Wilkins. Last season Fratello or one of his assistants called the offensive and defensive set on virtually every play. So what will happen if the Cavs get off to a slow start? Will Fratello revert to form? If he does, how will that sit with Kemp? "I can play full-court or half-court," Kemp says. "It doesn't make any difference. I just hate losing."

During the preseason Fratello kept his word. The Cavs averaged 105.1 points in seven games, and everybody, including Kemp, seemed happy with their brisker pace, especially the veterans who were subs last season—small forward Danny Ferry, center Vitaly Potapenko and guard Bob Sura (who played shooting guard in '96-97 but started this season at the point). The Cavs also acquired shooters Henry James and Wesley Person, and they like what they got out of the draft: 6'5" swingman Derek Anderson, 6'7" small forward Cedric Henderson and 5'10" point guard Brevin Knight.

Still, Kemp is Cleveland's first franchise player in years. "You won't see me doing a lot of talking," Kemp says, "but you'll see me doing a lot of playing. By coming here, I've put a lot of pressure on myself."

Indeed, it will be interesting to see how Kemp plays without Gary Payton to feed him, how well he adapts to a rebuilding situation and, mainly, how long he's happy with Fratello and the rest of Cleveland's management. During his eight tumultuous years in Seattle, Kemp, known as the Reign Man. was at the center of a lot of storms. He frequently was late for planes, buses and practices. But those transgressions were minor compared with the Kingdome-sized sulk he went into because the Sonics gave journeyman center Jim McIlvaine a deal ($35 million over seven years) that put him ahead of Kemp (who earned $3.3 million last season) on the salary scale.

The Cavs wasted little time in redoing Kemp's deal. Owner Gordon Gund opened the checkbook and presented Kemp with a contract extension that runs for seven years and is worth about $107 million. After signing, Kemp said, "I feel I'm blessed."

Everybody in the NBA will be watching to see how long the honeymoon in Cleveland lasts, but Kemp seems intent on stuffing his critics. "We can be a mix of young and old, a very interesting team," he says. "It's going to be a learning experience for all of us, and it may take some time, but I think we'll get there.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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